You’ve done the hard work. You got the customer through the door. Though they may have come to you via Booking.com or another Online Travel Agent (OTA), they are your customer; they are standing right in front of you and checking in for a stay at your property.
The Online Travel Agent has done a great job, and this customer’s information is currently in their system. They have cleverly used a masking email, which is an email that ends with @booking.com, but will still route itself to the customer’s personal email account, preventing you from getting the customer’s contact information.
What you need to do now is get that customer’s information! Make sure that if they come and stay in your town again, they come and stay with you, and more importantly, that they book with you directly in the future so you don’t have to pay a commission to the OTA ever again. We have several training videos about this topic that you can check out here.
If you follow our four simple steps, you can increase your direct bookings and get more repeat customers.
1. Update your guest registration form
It’s critical that you get your guests’ contact information when they check-in, but what you do with that information is even more important. We know first-hand that life as a hospitality owner is hard.
Sometimes there are not enough hours in the day, but taking the time to carefully record your guests’ addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses are the single most essential part of your marketing process. Why? Firstly, if you want to know where the majority of your customers are coming from, the best way to find out is by gathering their addresses. With this information, you can do what the Talbot does and run newspaper ads and competitions in their local or regional papers. This will help you to attract new guests. You could also do what The Sands did and run Facebook ads directly targeting the hometowns of your guests.
Remember, Online Travel Agents are not going to give you this information — you need to go and get it yourself.
Getting an e-mail address is key. Booking.com and other Online Travel Agents now use masked e-mail address so that you can’t directly see customers’ information. That means that you’ll have to get their emails through other means, possibly by utilising a guest book at check-in. After you get all of the customer’s information, set aside an hour per month to update the files in your booking engine or spreadsheet. If you don’t have the time, hire a college kid to do it for you. £15 in his or her pocket could save you three hours that you could spend better elsewhere.
Once you have all this information, you can proceed to offer guests special offers through e-mail, over the phone, or via social media. For an extra special touch, send a personalised Christmas card with a special offer. It’s OK if you do nothing with your guests’ emails until the start of the next year. The main objective is to have the information to use in the future.
Utilise Social Media
The guest has checked in. They are in their room, reading the guest information and leaflets, getting to know the local area, and learning more about your hotel, guesthouse, or holiday cottage.
The next thing they’ll want is to check their social media accounts and tell their friends about the trip or holiday that they’re on. In your guest information package or in leaflets in the room, include links to your Facebook page and encourage guests to like your page, check in, and tag your hotel or guesthouse, ideally with a photo. This can accomplish two things:
- You get another person following your page. You will now appear on their newsfeed every time you post a photo. When they are ready to book another stay or holiday, you will have made an impression and will be at the front of their mind.
- All of their friends will see that they are at your property. It is highly probable that at least 80% of their friends will have never heard of you before. Now, thanks to your guest, you are in their eye line. They can click on your Facebook page and link to your website and onto your availability section.
The most important thing to remember here is that no one does anything without getting something in return.
Incentivise your guests to like your Facebook page by offering them a free drink at the bar, a chocolate goodie bag, money off at a local attraction, or a late checkout. Any small incentive that you can offer them to get them to promote your business will pay off in the long run.
Penalise guests for booking via an OTA and reward the guests who book direct!
One of the best ways to get your OTA guests to do a direct booking upon return visits is to offer incentives and rewards for people who book directly. Also, make sure that you show guests who have booked via an OTA that they have been penalised because they did not book directly. For example, everyone loves to be able to check into their hotel as early as possible. The Grainary offers all guests who book directly a check-in time of 1 pm. While everyone who books via an OTA can’t check in until 3 pm.
A week before guests arrive, The Grainary sends their upcoming guests an e-mail spelling out their check-in policy. This does two things. It makes guests who booked directly feel like VIPs. It also makes guests who booked via OTAs feel like they have missed out.
This is only one simple example of what you can do to offer incentives for direct bookings. Other options include money off at the bar, discount vouchers for local attractions, and a box of chocolates upon arrival.
Make it cheaper for guests to book directly with you
The last tip is the easiest and most important to implement: have different offline and online rates. Make the offline rate cheaper than the online rate. Have different rates readily accessible so that all members of staff can see how much each room costs anytime someone asks or calls.
When you sign up with an OTA, you sign an agreement stating that the price you offer through them won’t be lower anywhere else online, including on your own website. However, these agreements don’t cover offline bookings. You can set your offline rate anywhere from 5% to 20% cheaper for guests who book directly with you.
The most important takeaway is to make it cheaper for guests to book with you directly than to book via an OTA or anywhere online.
Once you have done this, shout about it. Write it in your guest information letter, put it on a big sign in the reception area of your property, post it on your social media pages, add it to the signature on the e-mails that you send to every guest, and mention it to guests upon checkout.
Give all your guests a business card. Say that if they come back to the town again, they can call you directly to get a better rate than what they paid this time. You would be amazed at how well this has worked for me in my time running The Grainary.
I believe that this one blog could save you thousands of pounds in commission costs. I strongly urge you to adopt these actions right now, and I would love to hear your results.
If you have read this and want to take action but don’t know how to start, get in touch with me via the contact form below. I will gladly arrange to come meet you. I will also provide consultation on how to implement these changes for a small fee.
Share this blog
Finally, I would appreciate it if you would share this blog. Share it with your friends and anyone you know who is fed up of paying high commission rates to online travel agents.